Every year America is inundated with pleas from the Christian populace to cast off the secular traditions and once again return to the true meaning of Christmas.
If only they'd study a little history.
Origins of Christmastime
Roman pagans first introduced the holiday of Saturnalia, a week long period of lawlessness celebrated between December 17-25. Saturnus, the god of seed and sowing, was honored with a festival. During this time the Roman courts were closed, law was lifted, and the social order was inverted. Slaves didn't have to work, banquets were held, and all seriousness was essentially barred. There were gifts given and informal dress with felt hats (normally used by slaves) were worn to symbolize the freedom of the celebration.
It was an occasion for jubilation, visits to friends, and the presentation of gifts. Slaves were treated as equals, allowed to wear their masters' clothing, and be waited on at meal time in remembrance of an earlier golden age thought to have been ushered in by the god Saturn. Lucian of Samosata wrote, "Drinking, noise and games and dice, appointing of kings and feasting of slaves, singing naked, clapping of frenzied hands, an occasional ducking of corked faces in icy water—such are the functions over which I preside." The Saturnalia continued to be celebrated as Brumalia, the winter solstice, down to the Christian era, when its rituals had become absorbed in the celebration of Christmas (just as the festival of the Germanic goddess Eastre).
The Real Reason
When I was a Christian, I despised what I saw as the corruption and commercialization of my Lord's birthday by the evils of Walmart, Target, and Santa Claus (who I saw as a way of getting Christ's message across to heathens). Now that I actually looked into a bit of history surrounding the time, it's clear that we're not too far off from the "original meaning". I admit that I was an ignorant theist, as I think many today are; they don't want to learn anything past Jesus. They don't realize that centuries of time, traditions, and practices came before the third century! Just as with Christmas, they stop at 4AD and refuse to accept that gods like Mithra, Horace, Dionysus, Osiris, and lots of others all call that date their birthday.
Traditions get taken over as ideas slowly change. As the culture changes, you either adopt the new traditions by relating to them in some way, or you ignore them outright. I find it amusing that the pagan influences are still wrapped around the Christian face of the holiday. Jeremiah 10:2-4 warns not to put up what we today call a Christmas tree. And yet how many Christians have a tree in there house right now? Like I said, you go with the flow and change the meanings to fit your own tastes and beliefs or you die by the wayside. Our contemporary traditions are just as much the "true meaning" as any.
The fact is, the season is the reason for the season; it's the winter solstice. We must realize that feasts and festivals in honor of to the gods and forces of the seasons have existed for millenia. In our modern times of abundance and prevalence of food (the fact that you can get strawberries in the winter, etc.), in a way removes the reasons for many of our traditional holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. Thus, we're free to "celebrate" whatever we want. If you want to view Christmas as a celebration of the hope of the next spring, go for it. If you want to see it as another chance to spend time with loved ones, be my guest. If you want to think that it's the day your god was born or as a festival to one of the many fertility gods, that's fine too. Whatever reason you decide the season is for, just make sure to eat, drink, and be merry -- and don't force your practices on everyone else.
And have a wonderful Christma-Hanu-Rama-Ka-Dona-Kwanzaa-Wali-Solstice!